In addition to picking up the whole Thursday Night Football package that previously aired on CBS and NBC, Fox Sports will also be airing the NFL Draft this year. This news was first reported by Mike Florio; Kevin Draper added that the broadcast will be a “co-production” simulcast with NFL Network that will include talent sharing; John Ourand added that it is a five-year deal. It has a couple of fascinating reverberations:
1. Fox is clearly doubling down on the NFL. After 21st Century Fox sold over $60 billion in assets to Disney (as an aside, now we’re finding out they sold them to Disney at a 15% discount versus what Comcast offered due to antitrust regulation fears, and that Comcast may try to make another run at them), the original company was essentially left with the Fox broadcast network, FS1, and Fox News.
It is clear now that the strategy of the remainder of the Murdochs’ empire is to heavily focus on live national sports and news. What are the next moves? Acquiring the rights to WWE — or even buying the company outright as has been reported as a possibility — could potentially be one when they come up in 2019. NHL rights are up in 2021, and could provide FS1 with live games in the Fall and Winter around their Big Ten and Big East offerings, and Fox/FS1 with a way to get viewership with live events opposite the NBA playoffs in the Spring. And there’s one potential crown jewel I haven’t seen mentioned yet …
2. Any chance FS1 could make a run at Monday Night Football? ESPN’s deal for Monday Night Football expires in 2021, a year before all of the league’s Sunday deals with Fox, CBS, NBC, and DirecTV are up. ESPN book co-author Jim Miller has already broached the possibility that ESPN, currently paying $1.9 billion a year for league rights (which also include unlimited highlights on their studio programming), could give up the rights and go on a bidding spree of other items like the NHL, MLB Playoffs, and SEC football.
Monday Night Football has been a major component of why ESPN has been able to command affiliate fees from cable operators leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else. But, MNF is not the platform it once was. It is undeniable that this package gets worse games from the NFL than the broadcast nets Fox, CBS, and NBC do. Yes, the Draft is comparatively on the periphery in relation to the games, but airing it on Fox certainly has the byproduct of even further atrophying ESPN’s relationship with the League as they will lose market share on a spectacle that they essentially created from thin air in the 1980’s.
Could Fox Sports, clearly feeling good enough about its relationship with the league to add TNF and the Draft to its portfolio, think it could have a better arrangement on Monday Night Football, possibly by angling for some games that would have come out of its Sunday lineup? Would ESPN really let this package go when push comes to shove? Further complicating matters: What happens with NFL ratings, which have been declining for two years, between now and then?
We won’t find out these answers until 2021, but the questions are looming right now and you can bet that they are at the forefront of the minds of the people in charge of these institutions.
Disclosure: The Big Lead’s editor-in-chief Jason McIntyre is an on-air personality at FS1.